Straight to the Point
The popularity of Instant Pot electric pressure cookers has led many home cooks to consider exploring the process of pressure canning. There are plenty of questions in online pressure cooker groups about whether electric cookers can be used to pressure can sauces and soups safely. While the answer to that specific question is "no," it reveals a burgeoning interest in long-term food preservation.
While pressure cookers and pressure canners are related, they’re not the same. Both pressure cookers and pressure canners work according to the same basic principle: They trap steam to build pressure inside the pot as it's heated, which, in turn, raises the boiling point of water for faster cooking (in the case of pressure cookers) and more thorough elimination of unwanted microorganisms (in the case of pressure canners).
But because pressure canners are used specifically for food-safety reasons when putting up pickles, tomato sauces, and other foods for long-term storage, it's critical that the appropriate amount of heat is applied for the appropriate amount of time. Pressure canners need to be able to maintain constant pressure—and thus the proper heat—to kill the possible pathogens in home-canned foods. Since it is dangerous to merely be in the ballpark of the correct pressure, and thus temperature range, many pressure canners have gauges that allow you to track the pressure as it rises, reaches the proper level throughout the canning process, and then falls; pressure cookers typically do not have these gauges. Some pressure canners display this information via an analog pressure dial, others use weighted gauges that wiggle, wobble, and emit steam once they’ve reached the desired pressure, and some have both.
And some…well, we’ll get to that.
While there are a large number of pressure canners available for sale, many are, frankly, a little suspect. There are products that claim to be safe for canning that would be suitable as a pressure cooker, but it isn't clear that they can meet the safety standards required of a proper pressure canner. Primarily, this is because they lack the proper gauges, but some of these products also don’t meet USDA criteria, like the capacity to hold at least four quart jars. When it comes to canning food that will be stored at room temperature, where the risk of food-borne botulism is very real, we suggest buying a canner made by a well-known, reliable brand that has a good track record. A knock-off bargain brand isn’t a good buy if it means worrying about whether or not your spaghetti sauce is lethal.
I tested six different pressure canners, in a range of prices. Before moving on to canning real food, I tested each canner with measured amounts of water. I then attempted to can different types of foods. The best of the bunch quickly rose to the top, while a few sunk their own ships rather quickly.
The Winners, at a Glance
The Best Pressure Canner for Experienced Canners: All American Pressure Canner
Of all the canners I used, the All American Pressure Canner was the one that gave me the most confidence that everything inside the canner was doing what it was supposed to do. The combination of a dial gauge with a weighted gauge made it easy to check the pressure progress. And it’s built like a tank.
The Best Pressure Canner for Everyone: Presto 16-Quart Aluminum Pressure Canner
Presto makes a classic canner that comes with a dial gauge and a basic wobbly weight, but I recommend paying a little extra for the optional weighted gauge set. The 16-quart Presto model was easy to use, roomy, and the weighted gauge was loud enough to hear as it wobbled.
Why You Should Trust Us
Donna Currie has been cooking ever since she was tall enough to stand on a chair and stir food in a pot in her mom’s kitchen. She has written for a number of print and online publications, and has previously done product reviews for The Spruce Eats as well as for Serious Eats. She is the author of Make Ahead Bread. For this article she consulted with Master Food Preserver Christina Ward, a Serious Eats contributor and author of Preservation: The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation and Dehydration, to get more insight into canners and canning.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Great Pressure Canner
What Is a Pressure Canner and How Does it Work?
Pressure canners are similar to pressure cookers, but with some significant differences. Pressure cookers are designed to cook food at higher pressure—and thus higher heat—than the ambient pressure and temperature, and the increased temperature means food cooks faster. Pressure canners are better at regulating pressure, as they must maintain a specific pressure, and thus temperature in order to ensure that potential pathogens in food in jars are completely killed off. This is why food that's been properly pressure canned is safe to consumer even after long-term storage at room temperature.
As Master Food Preserver Christina Ward explained it to me, “Pressure canning works on the scientific principle of changing the pressure of the environment surrounding the jar of food so the temperature is elevated beyond boiling and will kill any pathogens. The pressure change also drives the oxygen out of the jar to create an anaerobic environment. While the no-oxygen environment prevents many pathogens from growing, there are dangerous pathogens that can grow in anaerobic conditions (botulism), which is why the high temperature part of the process is important.”
Pressure canning is a process with distinct stages. In the first stage, you place filled jars of whatever food you want to can in the canner on rack set over water and you place it over high heat with the weighted gauge removed from the vent until steam starts coming out of the vent at a steady pace. You then reduce the heat to maintain a steady pace of venting steam.
In the next stage you have to wait for ten minutes while the steam continues to vent, which allows air to escape and ensures the canner is filled with pure steam. When ten minutes has elapsed, you place the weight on the vent and you allow the canner to come up to the proper canning pressure. This means watching the dial gauge or waiting for the weighted gauge to wiggle as steam is released.
Once the proper pressure is achieved, you set a timer for the appropriate canning time, which is determined by the food being canned and the size of the canning vessels. Once that time has elapsed, you turn off the heat and the wait for the canner to cool down naturally; you leave the weight on the weighted gauge, since a quick drop in pressure could cause jars to break or seals to fail. Once the pressure has dropped completely, you remove the weighted gauge and you can take off the lid. Some recipes, however, suggest leaving the lid in place for an additional 10 minutes to allow the jars to cool slowly; not doing so can result in too much liquid being suctioned from the jars.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), a recognized authority on pressure canning, notes that in order for a pressure canner to be considered suitable for use with USDA guidelines, it must be able to hold a minimum of four one-quart jars. However, many pressure canners have larger capacities, some with the ability to hold up to seven one-quart jars. Tall canners add even more capacity—perhaps not for quarts, but for pints that can be stacked, adding another layer of jars that can be processed in a single batch.
Pressure Canner Gauge Styles: A Closer Look
First and foremost, a pressure canner should do its job: process containers of food so that food is free of potential pathogens. There are enough other parts of the food preservation process to worry about—is my tomato sauce at a safe pH? Did I tighten the jar lids just enough?—your canner should not be one of them. Since it’s impossible to see what’s going on inside the canner or check internal temperatures with a thermometer while it's sealed and under pressure, you need to be able to trust what the product is telling you via its gauges.
There are two main types of gauges: dial gauges and weight gauges. Dial gauges are just like they sound. They have a dial with a single hand that shows the pressure inside the canner. Most have numbers, and some include other information—for example, a warning when the cooker has gone beyond a safe pressure level.
Weighted gauges sit on top of a steam vent and begin to move when a specific pressure has been reached (usually in increments of 5, 10, and 15 pounds of pressure). It’s important to read the instructions for the particular cooker to see what kind of activity to look for. Some manufacturers say that constant movement of the weighted gauge is an indicator of the proper pressure level, while others say their weighted gauges only need to move a few times each minute.
The electric pressure cooker we tested did not have traditional gauges. Instead, it operates by automatically controlling the temperature and provides all the information the user needs on the digital display on the front of the cooker.
In many ways dial gauges are a great option since they show the actual pressure inside the canner from start to finish. However, dial gauges can fall out of calibration, so they should be tested every year. Weighted gauges, on the other hand, only let you know when the desired pressure is reached, but they don't have the same calibration issues as dials.
Most canning guides suggest contacting the local extension office for dial calibration service. I looked online to verify if testing was available in my state. I found that not every county in my area offers this service, and some only do testing at yearly events. Besides extension offices, hardware stores or facilities that sell bottled gas might offer this service, so it’s worth calling around to find a convenient testing site. Testing can’t be done at home since it requires a tool that isn’t sold to the general public. For owners of Presto canners, the company offers free gauge testing, but consumers need to pay for shipping. Some canners offer both dial and weighted gauges. In those cases, the manufacturers I contacted suggested that the cook should rely on the weighted gauge to determine when the canner reaches the proper pressure, while using the dial as a way to watch the pressure level as it progresses.
The plus side of dial-gauge-only canners is that they can be used to can foods at in-between pressures, which can be useful for people at moderately high altitude. Most pressure canning recipes require 10 pounds of pressure at sea level, but there are many people who live far above sea level and consequently need to use a higher amount of pressure. People living at 1,001-2,000 feet should pressure can at 11 pounds of pressure instead of the 10 pounds at sea level; people living at 2,001-3,000 feet can use 12 pounds of pressure. A dial gauge makes this easy enough, but they’d both need to use 15 pounds of pressure on a weighted-gauge canner since their choice would be 10 or 15 pounds, and rounding down could pose a food safety issue. Because more pressure means more heat, though, rounding up to 15psi could lead to overcooked food, particularly for foods with a long cooking time. While overcooking chicken broth is unlikely to be a problem, overcooked fruits or vegetables could end up too soft.
What Defines a Good Pressure Canner?
Having a trustworthy pressure canner is just the first step in safe canning. For a canner to be useful, it also needs to be easy to use. That means it should be simple to understand the information provided by the weight- and/or dial-gauge, and the canner itself needs to be easy to operate. If the lid is too hard to get on and off the cooker or if it’s difficult to load and unload jars, the canner is going to get kicked into the crawl space or garage, never to be seen again.
Canner capacity should also be considered. Small canners hold a minimum of four one-quart jars, or possibly five one-quart canning jars, while larger canners can accommodate seven quart jars. Tall canners, like the Mirro I tested, could hold seven one-quart jars, but it also allowed stacking when using one-pint jars. The maximum capacity was 16 one-pint jars compared to other large canners that could only hold eight pints in a single layer. In some cases, canners can accommodate one extra jar if they’re all regular-mouth rather than wide-mouth jars.
While there’s no universally correct answer when it comes to picking the perfect canner, there are questions the cook should think about before making the buying decision. First is how much of a single food is likely to be processed in a batch. If someone has a small garden or occasionally wants to can some stock after they’ve cooked a chicken, a smaller capacity canner will be a good fit. The small canners take less storage space as well as less stovetop real estate while in use.
Someone with a large garden or a fruit tree that drops all its fruit at once may want the largest capacity possible, so they can process all of their peaches, say, in as few batches as possible. But larger canners take more stove space and might make it difficult to use a large skillet or Dutch oven while canning is in progress. Large canners take more storage space, too, and tall canners require some reaching to get jars in and out.
Meanwhile, electric pressure canners require less active interaction on the part of the user, it isn't necessary to monitor their processes as diligently, and they also free up stove space for other uses. While some electric pressure cookers brag about their canning ability, the USDA recommends avoiding using pressure cookers for canning. However, there are purposely-built electric canners on the market, like the Presto Electric Canner I tested.
Another criteria is ease of use. That means a lid that’s easy to put in place, to lock, and to remove; it means that it’s easy to tell when the canner has reached pressure because that’s when the timing begins for canning; it means that the gauges are readable, so you can tell when the pressure has reduced so it's safe to remove the lid. It also can mean that you can hear whether the canner is performing as it should. While it’s best to remain nearby when canning is in process, it shouldn’t be necessary to watch a canner work for the entire time. If the jiggling and wobbling and steam release from the gauge is audible from a distance, the cook can leave the room and be assured that nothing is going awry.
When it comes to lids, safety is a consideration. All of the twist-on lids we tested had a small pin that popped up when pressure was achieved. Not only was that a visual cue that the canner was under pressure, it also is a safety measure since the pin, when popped up, prevents the lid from turning, so it isn't possible to open the canner. Ward noted, “It’s a pressurized metal and if it explodes, it’s shrapnel. But a pressure canner used correctly will NEVER cause a problem. It’s always an operator error.”
Weight can be a consideration, as well. All of the stovetop canners we tested were made from aluminum, which makes sense since it’s lighter in weight than stainless steel. That means they’re not compatible with induction cooktops. However, there are a few induction compatible models, so if you require an induction-capable pressure canner, some careful shopping is required.
“No one should die via badly canned moose,” Ward warned, so our first priority was testing the canners to make sure they were safe to use and can process food safely.
Pressure canning recipes take into account that the food will cook while the canner is coming up to pressure and while pressure is reducing, in addition to the actual canning time. The pressure reduction must be slow and steady, unlike the rapid pressure release that’s often called for when using a pressure cooker. A too-fast pressure release when canning could cause jar breakage, improper seals, and too much liquid siphoned from the jars before they’re fully sealed.
Test 1: Baseline Timing Measurements
We wanted a baseline test for the canners to see how long each stage of canning took. I performed one test with four quarts of water in the canners to measure all the canners with a fixed mass of contents. I then re-ran the test with each canner filled to half of its total capacity, which varied depending on the canner size. Canning recipes sometimes require that the water is heated before the filled jars are added, so I added the water and heated it to 180 degrees before I attached the lid and started the first timing. The exception was the electric canner, which had its own procedure for heating the empty jars prior to the steam-release step. For both tests, I timed how long it took for the canner to begin venting steam, followed by a 10-minute venting of steam period. Then I timed how long it took for each canner to reach canning pressure, and how long it took to reduce pressure completely. I let the canners cool with their lids ajar to minimize evaporation and measured the water remaining in the canners to see how much had been lost during the process.
Test 2: Time to achieve steam venting
After the initial tests, I used the canners with a variety of different jarred foods, looking for any bad seals or other food related issues. I also paid close attention to how easy it was to see when the canners were at the correct pressure and when pressure had released so I could remove the lid. During food canning, I monitored the times and found that the time varied a bit, possibly because of the food being canned. Raw-pack canned foods took longer to come to pressure than hot-pack, as expected. While I tried to keep the tests consistent, I had to exercise my judgment in some instances. For example, I had to decide exactly when the venting steam was steady, and I had to decide when the weights were wiggling the way they were supposed to. I also had to decide how much to lower the heat under each canner so the venting and the weight wiggling were steady rather than manic. Another person using another stove would likely get slightly different results, but the baseline numbers gave us information on how each canner performed compared to its peers.
This is the first stage of canning, and can be done at the highest heat on the stove. At this point, the food is heating up along with the jars and the water in the canner. There’s no pressure yet, but this is still part of the overall cooking time. This took from three to 10 minutes during the first test with four quarts of water, and from four to 12 minutes with the cookers filled to half of their capacity. It seems like a wide range, but the cookers were different sizes and different materials so I didn’t discard any canners due to these results.
Test 3: Time to pressure
Once the canner has vented steam for 10 minutes, the weight or the weighted gauge is put in place and pressure begins to build inside the canner. Then I started a timer, waiting for the canners to reach 15 pounds of pressure. That’s the highest pressure most canners should be operated at, and the pressure that high altitude canners will need to use. Those who live below 1,000 feet may be able to pressure-can at 10 pounds of pressure.
During this test, I began to appreciate canners with dial gauges since I could watch the indicator to see how far and how fast the pressure was rising. Could I step out of the room to let the dog out, or should I keep watching because there was a short time left?
While missing the exact moment a canner reaches pressure isn’t dangerous, cooking the food for longer than required means it might be overcooked in its jar. Dial gauges are easier to monitor since a quick glance at any stage shows what the current pressure is. In this test, the time varied from five to 22 minutes, with the Presto Electric as the outlier at five minutes (the five-minute-mark was when the pin dropped and the canning timer appeared, but it took longer than a minute for the canner to actually start counting down). The next fastest canner was the Granite Ware at 10 minutes, with a caveat: When I tested that canner again, the time was 20 minutes. Again, since this canner is very responsive to heat, and since it requires more heat than the other canners, the time varied more than others. In the second test with canners half-full, the range was seven to 61 minutes; this incredibly wide range in time difference largely correlates to the size of the canner (the bigger the canner, the more water it holds when filled halfway, and the more airspace there is to fill with steam, hence the more time it takes to reach pressure). This time the Presto Electric the quickest, and the small All American was the second shortest. The taller, larger T-fal (view at Amazon) and Mirro (view at Amazon) were at the high end of the range.
Test 4: Time to reduce pressure
Oh, goodie, more timers and more watching! This time, I timed how long it took the canners to reduce pressure after I turned the heat off.
Unlike pressure cookers, there is no option for a quick release when using a pressure canner. While it’s physically possible to run a stovetop pressure cooker under cold water to quickly reduce the pressure, a rapid change in temperature in a pressure canner could cause the seals on jars to fail, or worse, the jars could shatter. The canners need to reduce pressure at their own slow pace.
In the first test with four quarts of water, the range was from 14 to 61 minutes, with the Granite Ware as the outlier on the short end. The Mirro and T-fal were next at 28 minutes, the Presto was 35 minutes, and the All American was 38 minutes. The Presto Electric took the longest, at 61 minutes, probably because it’s so well insulated. The exterior stays cool in use which also means it doesn’t let go of the heat when canning is done.
Test 5: Water loss
When canning, it’s important that there’s enough water in the canner so it won’t run dry during the canning process. After pressure was released from each canner, I measured the water to see how much was lost. It should be expected that more water would be lost during actual food canning, since a small amount is vented throughout the pressure canning process, but this was a good baseline to see if any canners lost enough water that it would be necessary to add more water for safety.
During the first test, the range was from one cup to 3 1/2 cups on the first test and from one to four cups in the second test. While that’s a bit of a range, none of them lost so much water that I’d worry about them running dry during canning.
Test 6: Readability of Pressure Gauges
Knowing when a canner is venting steam to start the 10-minute venting is important because you don’t want to overcook the food. However, that’s not as critical as being able to determine when pressure has been reached to start timing the canning. It’s also good to know when pressure is released, so the lid can be opened for the jars to fully cool more quickly, although they can be left in the canner to cool off even more slowly.
It was easiest to determine the amount of pressure in the canners with both dial and weighted gauges. Weight-only canners did their jobs, but required a little more attention. With the weighted-gauge-only canners, there is a safety pin that pops up and makes it impossible to twist the lid. When that pin drops down, it’s safe to remove the gauge to release the last gasps of steam, then twist the lid off.
I spent a lot of kitchen time watching gauges, looking at wobbling, spinning, and bouncing weights. Eventually I got tired of staring at them and set up a camera so I could leave the kitchen. Even then, the dial gauges made it easier to see the progress of the pressure, both up and down.
Test 7: User Experience
No one is going to haul a pressure canner out of storage to can turkey stock after Thanksgiving if their canner is too annoying to use. No one is going to buy extra green beans at the farmers market to can them if they hate using their canner.
User experience encompasses everything from the ease of putting the lid onto the canner to the experience of loading and unloading jars. While these weren’t quantifiable tests, I used these canners enough to collect a list of annoyances and accolades. Most of those were about the lids, but I made other notes as well.
Right off the bat, I saw that the Granite Ware needed higher heat than the rest of the canners; it also cooled off much faster when the heat was turned off—like all the canners in this review, it was made of aluminum, but it had thinner walls and a wider, shorter shape compared to the rest, which may have contributed to how it retained and lost heat. Of all the canners, it was also the most responsive to heat changes, reacting more quickly when I raised or lowered the heat on the stove.
Out of all of the canners, I found that placing the lid on the Presto Electric was most intuitive. While all of them had an arrow or notch to show the correct alignment, the Presto Electric had marks for both locked and unlocked positions, in white print on a black lid. The Mirro had a red safety pin that was easy to see, so it was easy to tell whether it was up or down. It came with a set of three different weights that spun when it was up to pressure. The sound they produced was more pleasant than the rattles and clanks of the other canners.
On the other hand, the pin on the Granite Ware canner was silver colored, which made it hard to see, particularly if I wasn't standing close to the stove. The handles on the canner lid look identical, but only one of them has a pin, which I thought was odd.
The lid on the T-fal was a bit more difficult to align compared to the others. Since it didn’t have a weighted gauge, there was no clinking sound, and the steam from the vent was less of a hissing and more of a hooting sound.
The lid on the All American looked intimidating at first, but over time it became my favorite, and the gauge was easy to read.
The Presto lid was easy to align and a video on Presto’s site made it easy to see how the weighted gauge was supposed to move, so I could adjust the heat properly.
How We Chose Our Winners
Throughout testing, the first priority was ensuring all the canners functioned as required for safe food storage. They also had good reviews from online buyers, which was part of the reason they ended up in my kitchen.
Being able to determine pressure is a big part of the safety question. The American and the Presto stovetop canners had both a dial gauge and a weighted gauge, although the weighted gauge for the Presto is an optional add-on that costs additional money. I appreciated the ability to peek at the dial gauge to see the progress of the pressure, both up and down, and both dial gauges were accurate when compared to the weight. When the gauge read 0, the safety was popping down on the Presto. When the gauge on the American read 0, there was no more steam when I removed the weighted gauge. These two quickly rose to the top of our list.
The Mirro and Granite Ware had weighted gauges, but no dials. It was easy enough to see the gauges moving and both were loud enough to hear the hissing and wobbling when I wasn’t staring at them. These also were in the running for the winner’s circle.
The T-fal has a dial gauge, but no numbers on the gauge and no weighted gauge. Instead, it has green zones marked 1, 2, and 3 on the dial, which correspond to the numbers on the lever that adjusts a spring-loaded vent. While the dial gauge’s number matched the lever’s number when I used this canner, there were no actual numbers to show the precise pressure. When the dial showed that pressure was gone, the pin was still up and it took several minutes for it to be safe to remove the lid. This canner fell out of the winner’s circle because of the lack of a weighted gauge and the lack of precision of the dial.
The Presto Electric Canner has a digital display that I found easy to understand and easy to use, although it was quite different from all of the others. It works much like today's popular multi-cookers, like the Instant Pot, monitoring and regulating the internal pressure and temperature so you don't have to. Since it auto-regulates its pressure to reach the needed safe canning temperature regardless of your altitude, there’s no pressure information displayed, and no temperature readings either. Instead, it displays the various stages of the process and instructs the cook what to do next. Personally, I love digital kitchen gear and appreciate the hands-off nature of this device, but it's putting a lot of faith into the device itself since there's no way for the user to confirm it's canning at the right temperature.
Further, it's worth noting here that many multi-cookers market themselves as also having canning capabilities, but thus far their use for canning is not recommended by experts. The University of Georgia's National Center for Home Food Preservation specifically warned against using these devices for canning, citing a lack of USDA data on their ability to hold safe canning temperatures. Because of this, Ward gave a vehement “no” to any kind of electric canner, stating, "the difference between [pressure] canning and [pressure] cooking is that an improperly canned item can kill someone. No shortcut or ease-of-use-gadget is worth taking a chance with a person's life."
The Presto Electric canner is not a multi-cooker, but instead a dedicated canning device, but Ward still advised caution until more data is available. "There may be a day in the future that a unit passes through rigorous testing and specific instructions on how to safely use one, but until that time: no way," she said. Based on her expertise, I dropped this one from the recommended list.
That future date may be coming soon, though. Presto says they have been testing their electric canner for the past two years, including high altitude tests up to 7,000 feet, and they claim their canner conforms to all USDA requirements. But of course, a company testing its own products isn’t enough, so they are working with an independent testing company to verify its reliability. There’s currently no estimate on when testing will be complete, but at least it’s in progress.
When it came to all of the timing, there were sometimes wide variations, but those could largely be explained by variations in the size of the canners, the thickness of the pots, and their overall size. While none of the timing tests made me worry about whether the food was safe, the responsiveness of the Granite Ware cooker and its need for higher heat may make it more vulnerable to user error. During food tests it performed well, but the fast cooling could make it more likely to siphon excessive amounts of liquid from jars.
User experience played a large role in my final choices.
Except for the All American canner, all of the canners tested have a lid that twists on, with a safety button that pops up to keep the lid from twisting off when it’s under pressure. Those five also have a silicone gasket that is likely going to need replacement eventually. I had occasional gripes as I aligned lids to twist them on, but part of that was because each was a little different and I was constantly moving from one to another. Each one had some sort of arrow or other marking to show the proper alignment, which was helpful, and after getting used to a single canner, it should become easy.
The All American canner is a whole different beast. It looks like something you’d store plutonium in, with a thick body and giant wing-nut-like screws that hold the lid in place like six vises. At first it was intimidating, but I got used to it quickly and actually preferred it over the other lid styles. Heat-safe warning stickers on the canner and lid are meant to remain on the canner, adding to its somewhat scary demeanor.
This is the only canner tested that didn’t have a gasket. Instead, the inner top rim is machined to a precise angle, with that same angle on the matching part of the lid, and instructions said to apply a super-thin layer of oil to that area. When the lid was mated to the pot during testing, the metal-on-metal seal reliably kept steam from escaping and it had no trouble achieving pressure.
The one downside of this lid style—and the reason I suggest it for experienced canners—is that there is no safety button that pops up to keep the lid in place. The lid does twist on a bit, but it’s the six heavy-duty screws that hold it in place with their vise-like grip. Someone who is incredibly determined could theoretically start unscrewing those screws while the canner is under pressure, though it'd likely depressurize before all six screws could be loosened (regardless, do not try this!). Experienced canners and folks who don't want severe burns wouldn’t do that. As Christina Ward said, “I tell people in my classes this: a pressure canner is a tool; just like a hammer. If you use it incorrectly you can hurt yourself or cause damage to your stove or worse.”
When it comes to loading and unloading jars, two of the canners were just a little different. The Mirro and T-fal canners are tall, to accommodate a second layer of pint jars, up to a total of 16, but they can only handle a single layer of quarts. They included two identical racks so that one rack can sit on the bottom of the canner for the first layer of pint jars and the second rack can sit on top of those jars and hold a second layer of pints. That extra capacity is great for anyone who cans food in large batches, but someone short might not appreciate having to reach into the canner to place jars in the bottom. The other canners can only accommodate a single layer of jars.
At first glance, I thought the Granite Ware canner would be a sure winner because of its versatility. Because it’s got a nonstick finish, it can be used for cooking as well as canning, with no worries about aluminum reacting with food.* It also includes a rack, so it can be used for steaming large amounts of food, like tamales.
*While pressure cookers should never be used as canners, pressure canners can, in theory, be used as cookers. This comes with a whole bunch of caveats though: Just as in a pressure cooker, you must not exceed the max fill capacity, nor make anything that runs the risk of foaming. You also need to inspect the vents carefully to make sure no food got into them, which could lead to a malfunction. Really, it's probably a better idea to use a pressure cooker for cooking and leave the canner for canning.
Unfortunately, there’s a downside. The Granite Ware canner includes a wire canning basket with handles on two sides that allow the jars to be lifted out all at once and that fold down a bit so they don’t get in the way of the lid. It’s similar to the baskets that come with water-bath canners. At first, I thought it was a great idea compared to the simple flat racks in other canners, but trying to lift a whole basket full of jars was awkward, and the handles sometimes got in the way of the jars. After trying it once, I went back to using a jar lifter to remove jars one by one. (Jar lifters are handy to have any time there’s a need to retrieve a jar from hot water, including water bath canning and even sous vide cooking. Jar lifters often come in kits that include other canning supplies like funnels, but none of the pressure canners included them.)
Besides the awkwardness of lifting all the jars at once with the basket, the basket’s wires are set rather far apart and I sometimes had trouble placing jars so they wouldn’t fall in-between and tilt. Lastly, after a lot of canning, some rust began to show on the rack. While that won’t affect canning, it could eventually affect the integrity of the rack. In the end, the basket bumped this canner from the top spots.
The Best Pressure Canner for Experienced Canners: All American Pressure Canner
What we liked: This is a beast of a canner that looks like it will last for generations. It also looks a bit intimidating, and takes a little bit of practice to feel confident when putting the lid on, but I got used to it quickly and rapidly began to prefer it over twist-on lids. It doesn’t have a rubber or silicone gasket that will need to be replaced over time; instead, it has a metal-on-metal seal that works remarkably well. While the 10-quart test cooker only had a capacity of four one-quart jars or five wide-mouth pint jars, that’s a comfortable size for someone who isn’t cooking in huge batches, and it's relatively easier to store. The canner is made from machined aluminum and is quite thick and a bit heavier (13.2 pounds) than our other favorites, but not enough to be a deal breaker.
No matter what I canned, from jars full of water to actual food, the jars sealed without an issue, and the process was simple. It was easy to read the dial gauge and easy to see the weighted gauge move. This canner also kept pressure at a lower level of heat than the others, which is great for anyone whose energy costs are high.
While this is an expensive canner, it’s likely to last a lifetime. It also comes in larger sizes for people who like to can in larger quantities.
What we didn't like: The one thing to be aware of is that it's theoretically possible to loosen the screws that hold the lid on while the canner is under pressure. That, of course, would cause hot steam to vent. Experienced canners would certainly know better.
Some users have also experienced vapor lock, where the lid suctions onto the canner as it cools, particularly if the weighted gauge is left in place after pressure is gone. I didn’t have that problem and the company website addresses how to fix it if it occurs.
The Best Pressure Canner for Everyone: Presto 16-Quart Aluminum Pressure Canner
What we liked: A great all-around canner from a company with a long reputation in the canning business, the Presto is simply reliable. It can hold seven one-quart or eight wide-mouth pints so there’s room for larger batches, and every jar sealed perfectly in our tests.
Weighing in at just nine pounds, this aluminum canner is fairly lightweight, but not at all flimsy. The lid twisted on and off easily and the pop-up safety pin was easy to see. When the dial gauge read 0 pressure, the pin popped down and there was no more steam being released under the weighted gauge.
Speaking of that weighted gauge, we recommend adding it to this canner since it’s inexpensive and very useful. It can be used for the usual 5, 10, or 15 pounds, so it’s compatible with all recipes.
Meanwhile, if the canning is being done at moderately high altitude, the original gauge can be used. Rather than reporting a specific pressure, it simply starts wobbling when pressure is achieved, letting the cook know that it’s time to start watching the dial gauge. An experienced canner would also watch that weight to adjust the stove’s heat for a moderate temperature rise, so the pressure doesn’t overshoot the goal. Because the dial shows precise pressures, it’s handy for canning at intermediate pressures so people at not-quite-so-high altitudes can can at just 12 pounds of pressure, if that’s all that’s required. Dial gauge canners may be particularly desirable for people who live at 1001-6000 feet, since they can choose 11, 12, or 13 pounds of pressure.
What we didn't like: During the water-loss test, this lost 2 cups of water for both tests, which was more than the All American. When I pressure cooked one-quart cans of pre-cooked dried beans for a whopping 90 minutes, the canner lost a bit over 4 cups of water, which still left almost two quarts of water after that very long cooking time.
- Mirro Polished Aluminum Pressure Cooker: I actually liked this tall 22-quart aluminum canner a lot, and I think it would be particularly useful for cooks who want to can in large quantities, but the lack of a weighted gauge nudged it out of the top spots, and the large size might make it problematic to store.
- Granite Ware 3 in 1 Pressure Canner: Great for versatility, I liked this 20-quart nonstick-coated aluminum canner and would have liked it even better with a weighted gauge, but the jar basket was less user-friendly than the flat racks in the other canners reviewed here.
- Presto 12 Qt Electric Pressure Canner: I geek out over digital kitchen gear, but deferred to Christina Ward’s expertise that electric canners need to be more thoroughly vetted by canning authorities before a confident recommendation can be given.
- T-fal Pressure Canner: This could have been so much better with numbers on the gauge of this 23-quart aluminum canner, but I was also skeptical about the spring-loaded vent that controlled pressure. Weighted gauges that control pressure will remain consistent, but springs can stretch over time which would mean this would no longer be venting correctly. Whether that’s likely in the lifetime of this canner, it’s hard to say. But with so many canners with reliable weights, this simply didn’t make the cut.
How do you use a pressure canner?
While different pressure canners may implement different types of gauges, the principles of operation remain the same. First, filled jars are placed into the pressure canner on a rack situated above water. The machine is then turned to high heat until steam begins venting steadily, at which point the heat can be reduced. Next comes a ten-minute wait for air to escape and the pressure canner to fill completely with steam. A weight is then placed on the vent to allow the canner to reach proper pressurization. Once this occurs, a timer should be set to allow for appropriate canning time—note that timing will differ depending on the size of the jars and the type of food being canned. After the specified time has elapsed, the heat is turned off and the pressure canner should be allowed to cool naturally to avoid breakage of jars or seals.
What's the difference between a pressure canner and a pressure cooker?
Pressure cookers are meant to cook food fast. The sealed cooking chamber works by trapping steam, which increases pressure and—critically—temperature inside the vessel, thereby reducing cooking times. Pressure canners, meanwhile, are designed to regulate pressure and temperature to ensure that dangerous pathogens are destroyed. The high-pressure, high-temperature environment also forces oxygen out of the jars to enable a long shelf life.
Can you use Mason jars in a pressure canner?
As long as they fit properly within the chamber, Mason jars are suitable for use in a pressure canner.